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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

February 11, 2020

Student Success

How to attend college for free.

Pennies spilling out of jar - online college free

Do you dream of going to college, but the cost is always on your mind and in your way? College is expensive—in the United States it will end up costing you anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 to get your diploma. For most students, these kinds of costs can seem impossible. But what if you could get free college? Free tuition? What if you could get a quality, credible degree without paying a dime? The reality is YOU CAN get a quality degree for absolutely free. It takes some work and some time, but you can try different options to help you get free tuition and free college. If you're passionate about the idea of higher education, don't let the cost stand in your way. There are many methods to help you earn a degree for less, or absolutely free. Discover 5 things you can do to cut down or eliminate the cost of college.

1. Choose a college with affordable tuition.

he best place to start when cutting down on the cost of college is with the college itself! If you know that cost is a determining factor for you, research less expensive options that still allow you to get the education you deserve. Community colleges can be a great place to start and are often far less expensive than traditional universities. And after you graduate from a community college, you have options to transfer to a four-year college and complete your bachelor's degree. This will help you save in the long-run, spending less for your first two-years of school.

Online universities like WGU are also able to have far lower tuition than traditional universities because they don’t have physical campuses, facilities, and other costs. While you may not immediately be able to get free tuition, starting with lower tuition to begin with will go a long way in helping you get less expensive or free college.

You can also save money with an online university because you don’t have to live on-campus or spend money commuting to your classes. This cost saving can actually add up dramatically over time. Online students are also able to usually move faster through their classes, so they end up paying less overall for their degree. Additionally, online students are often able to continue to work full-time while pursuing their degree. This means you can keep earning money while you spend it on your degree. This isn't the case with most traditional universities, so online schooling is ideal for those who want to earn money while furthering their education.

If you’re looking for a less-expensive college option, start with a lower-cost college to begin with, like WGU. Applying for admission at online colleges is also often less expensive as well, saving you money from the get-go. It's important to carefully do your research and ensure the school you're choosing is accredited, has good programs, and is a good option for your college education. If schools charge an excessive amount for tuition, chances are they actually aren't that good.

A blue piggy bank sits next to stacks of coin.

2. Apply for scholarships.

Most schools offer scholarship programs that can help you attend college for less, or even free. Scholarships are sometimes contributed by the school, and other times separate organizations or individuals. Many organizations want to help make free college and free tuition a possibility for more students, so they donate the money that students need to attend full-time for less. Many students may opt to give back to their school after they graduate and have a good job, giving free tuition to even more students.

Students usually are required to apply for a scholarship, giving information about themselves and sometimes providing an essay or other assignment. Some scholarships will be need-based, given to students who can demonstrate that they have the greatest financial need. Other scholarships are need-blind and are academic-based, given to students who are getting great grades. And others are given just based on your application—students may be required to submit essays or personal statements to help convince the scholarship committee that they deserve the reward. 

You can find scholarships in a variety of ways. Look at your university website and see what open scholarships they have that you can apply for. Many will require admission before you can qualify for a scholarship at their institution.

There are also state and national webpages to help you find scholarships available to students at any school. These are often corporate or organizational scholarships. There are scholarships available for students who work in certain industries, are going into certain career fields, are first-time college students, are certain races or genders, and more. You can likely find a scholarship that is made for students in your specific circumstances. Apply to as many as possible to help you get as much money towards your education as possible.

3. Apply for federal financial aid.

WGU is approved by the U.S. Department of Education to offer federal financial aid in all of our degree programs. Because of our more affordable tuition, WGU students are able to graduate without large amounts of student debt to repay. If you are eligible for and accept federal financial aid, it will cover most, if not all, of your college tuition and other expenses. Students fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in order to qualify for financial aid from the government. This form will ask about your income and personal information to determine if you’re eligible to receive aid. You can work with your school's financial aid office to get additional help with this process. There are two main kinds of federal financial aid that you can receive, Pell Grants and student loans.

Student loans can vary from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, but all federal student loans are true loans and must be repaid. Even though loans need to be repaid, they can still be hugely beneficial for borrowers needing to find ways to pay for tuition. There are several beneficial features of federal student loans that make them a great option for borrowers:

Low interest rates. The federal government has standard interest rates for loans. This means for any academic year, anyone who qualifies for financial aid loans will pay the same interest. But these rates can change from year to year, so it’s important to know what the rate is for the year you borrow. The government works to keep these loan rates fairly low so borrowers don’t have such a big balloon when they pay off their loans. Federal loans are different from private loans, where the lender looks at your credit and income to determine the interest rate.

Subsidized interest. After submitting your FAFSA, you may receive notification that you qualify for a direct subsidized loan. This means that some of your requested loan amount will include subsidized interest. The federal government will waive or eliminate the interest that is due during your time as a student. This is usually for a set amount of time or for a set amount of money, like four years or $10,000, so you can’t avoid your payments indefinitely. Interest on the remaining portion of your loan will only be charged during your repayment period, which will help lower the amount you pay back overall. Borrowers have to demonstrate financial need to qualify for direct subsidized loans, so they aren’t available to everyone at any time.

Deferred repayment. During your student years, as long as you are enrolled at least half-time, no payments are due on your loans. Repayment typically can be deferred until six months after you are no longer a student. This helps students get into a job before they have to start paying back their loans. Don’t forget that your loans start accumulating interest immediately, so it’s smart to start paying them off as soon as you can and as quickly as you can. Available for postgraduate education. These loans are not restricted to undergraduate programs. Federal student loans are also available should you choose to earn an affordable online master’s degree. However, graduate students are always considered “independent,” meaning their parents' income and financial status isn’t a factor in their eligibility. This means that students who want to further their career and education have options to help them make it affordable. Even though student loans need to be repaid eventually they can help thousands of students afford their tuition costs and get on the path to more education and a bright future.

Pell Grants on the other hand are free money from the government to pay for your school. The program was created to help all students, even those who are in financial hardship, be able to pursue higher education. It can only be used for undergraduate coursework, but it never has to be repaid. Qualifying for Pell Grants is based strictly on your financial need—in your FAFSA form you will have an EFC or Expected Family Contribution based on you or your family’s income. The algorithm will determine if you qualify as financially needy, and can receive Pell Grants for your education. You are limited to 12 semesters of Pell Grant aid, not a dollar amount. Pell Grants are a great way to get your college education without spending a dime if you’re financially needy. 

Image of a graduation cap sitting atop a pile of cash.

4. Ask your employer for tuition reimbursement.

If you work full-time but also want to pursue higher education, an employer may be able to help you attend college for free. Many organizations have tuition reimbursement programs that help students further their education while working. Employees with higher education are very beneficial for organizations, which is why they want to help pay for students to get their education. 

If your employer doesn’t have specific tuition reimbursement programs in place, you may still be able to work something out. Go and talk to your manager and tell them about your program of interest, and how it can help their organization. Some managers will be interested and see the great value in your degree, and work out a reimbursement option for you personally. This is a great way for many individuals, particularly those who want a graduate degree, to pay little or nothing for college.

5. Budget and save.

Ok, this doesn’t technically help you attend college for free. But budgeting can be the trick to help you get the money you need saved up so you can attend college with far less stress. There are several things you can do to budget smartly and help save for college. The small things can add up quickly!

  • Ask family and friends to donate to your college fund instead of buying you gifts for your birthday or Christmas.

  • Rent out a room in your home to earn some extra income.

  • Pick up a side hustle doing something you like so you can earn some extra cash.

  • Use your home for Airbnb when you’re on vacation or a getaway.

  • Cut back on expenses you don’t need like restaurants, Starbucks, entertainment, and more.

  • Sell old clothes or home decor items to help bring in some extra money.

  • Turn a hobby like photography or art into a business by selling your work.

  • Shop around for less expensive car or homeowner’s insurance.

Talk to family and friends to see what other creative ideas they have about saving for college. You may be able to use family help to afford your higher education as well. If you're college-bound, don't let the cost stand in your way. There are many other ways you can budget and save so your college tuition doesn’t break the bank. 

Attending college doesn’t have to mean you become a poor college student. There are many things you can do to pay less for school, or pay absolutely nothing at all! Research colleges to find the right one that will help you get the degree you need, at a cost you can afford. WGU focuses on helping more students be able to get higher education with affordable tuition, scholarships, and financial aid options. Our goal is your success.

Research shows that students with degrees make far more money over the course of their lives than those who don't. You can make nearly $24,000 more with a bachelor's degree each year than if you just had a high school diploma. You will be qualified for more advanced fields and higher positions within an organization, and those usually translate to more money. And master's degrees go even further, giving you opportunities to earn much more than a high school diploma or even a bachelor's degree alone. So your college education is an investment in you and in your future. It's hard to put a price on that. Work to find ways to get low or free tuition, and start investing in yourself and your career.

The average student loan debt of WGU graduates in 2017 was less than half the national average. WGU has a three-pronged commitment to keeping your debt low and your return on investment quick:

  1. Provide useful information and advice on responsible borrowing.

  2. Keep tuition low.

  3. Offer degree programs that lead to better-paying jobs after graduation.

Since the launch of WGU's Responsible Borrowing Initiative in 2013, the average borrowing of students who take loans has decreased by more than 40% Undergraduate students at WGU graduate with half the debt of their peers across the country, and the university's three-year loan default rate is also less than half the national average.

Additionally a WGU degree delivers superior results—it means you’ve demonstrated mastery of real-world competencies that employers are looking for. As a result, WGU grads frequently get jobs that more than pay for their education in a short amount of time.

In a 2018 Harris Poll Online survey, recent WGU grads reported earning, on average, $12,600 a year more within two years of graduation, compared with income prior to enrollment. By four years after graduation, that income increase averaged $18,400, compared with the national average of $12,400. With an average cost of $16,500 for a bachelor’s degree, most WGU graduates see a positive return on their investment within 2 to 3 years.

If you're considering furthering your education but are worried about the cost of college, stop worrying! Many students are able to graduate debt-free or pay nothing for their college experience with the help of programs designed to get them through school for less. You can be one of them! When you choose the right school and work hard to find ways to cut down on the costs, you can get your degree without breaking the bank.

Don't let the cost of college stand in your way. Get started on your path to higher education now.

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Our focus on your success starts with our focus on four high-demand fields: K–12 teaching and education, nursing and healthcare, information technology, and business. Every degree program at WGU is tied to a high-growth, highly rewarding career path. Which college fits you?

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